sustainable children Feed

‘Tis the season to be creative

Creative countdown to christmas. Owls made from toilet rolls. little eco footprints

The festive season has evolved into a celebration of consumerism.

Christmas day will see many children opening an overwhelming number of gifts. Excessive gift-giving comes at a cost - for our hip-pockets, the environment, and our children. I am sure many children would prefer more of our presence, rather than more presents.

When it comes to gift-giving, less is more.

This Christmas we’ll continue our tradition of giving our daughter only two gifts - one from us and one from Santa. Knowing she only gets two gifts, she slowly and thoughtfully writes her wish list and truly values what she receives. Rather than depriving her, I believe that we are helping her appreciate what she has and teaching her the value of wanting less. I hope that by wanting less, she will always feel like her desires are within reach.

Our household is trying to fight against the commercialisation of Christmas and downplay the tradition of gift-giving - but without being scrooges. 

One solution is to be more generous with our presence, rather than our presents. We've embraced traditions that help us connect instead of consume. 

New traditions fill the gap left when we take away the emphasis on gift-giving.

My favourite festive season tradition is our creative countdown to Christmas.

Counting down the days to Christmas using our home made advent calendar made from rocks 2. Little eco footprints

We make an advent calendar from natural materials. Last year we used stones and in earlier years we’ve used fallen leaves.

Counting down the days to Christmas using our home made advent calendar made from rocks. Little eco footprints

Each stone or leaf is numbered and corresponds to a chosen creative activity. 

Creative countdown to christmas. corn husk owls. little eco footprints

We choose quick nature play or craft activities that we can do as a family. For example, last year together we created nature crowns, corn husk owls, owls from toilet rolls, and a native bee hotel from recycled materials.

Creative countdown to christmas. native bee hotel. little eco footprints

We steer clear from activities that require us to buy anything and instead use natural and recycled materials. We make use of what we already have.

This year Little Eco asked that the activities have a wild craft theme. That’s my girl! So we’ll be learning how to build a shelter, weave a basket, navigate, and bandage a snake bite.

Each year, at the start of our creative countdown, I struggle to set aside the time to create.

But I persist. I make it a priority. I set aside an hour each afternoon for us to create together. We chat, connect and create. We focus more on the process than the outcome and have a lot of fun.

I notice the effect of setting aside time to create together almost immediately. Little Eco stops asking for TV and we all become more confident in our creativity.

We roll into Christmas more connected and creative.

Do you want to give less this Christmas? 

I'm guessing I'm not the only person contemplating giving less this Christmas. Be it for environmental, wellbeing or financial reasons.

Be creative - find or create a new tradition.

Think about what you truly enjoy doing as a family – and do more of that.

It’s easy to buy more presents – making time to give presence is more challenging – but so much more valuable.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 24th November 2014.

I've enjoyed a few other posts on a similar theme in the last few days. Brydie shared her Gift Tree on the Milkwood blog and I especially love the Permaculture Advent-ure the Owlets are embarking on

Wishing you a creative (rather than consuming) festive season. 


Raising chickens - a lesson in patience, responsibility and reality

A proud Little Eco and Zippy, the first chicken to hatch. Little eco footprints

Virtual pets are popular. The Tamagotchis and Furbys of the 90's have been superseded by cyberpet mobile phone apps. Little Eco loves Egg Babies. She buys a virtual egg that needs to be fed, washed, entertained and put to sleep. Eventually, it either dies from neglect or hatches. Despite suggestions that the Egg Baby app is teaching her life lessons in responsibility, I’m not convinced. So when she asked for an incubator for her birthday, I enthusiastically agreed. I embraced the idea of helping her raise real-life chickens.

Raising-chickens-from-eggs-Little eco footprints

We bought a dozen fertilised eggs. We chose Australorp, a hardy dual purpose breed, suitable for both laying eggs and meat.

How-to-incubate-chicken-eggs. Little eco footprints

The eggs were placed in an incubator at 37.5 degrees celsius and carefully turned five to six times a day. Little Eco marked one side of each egg with a smiley face and the other with a sad face so she could keep track when turning.

Candling-eggs. Little eco footprints

We excitedly studied chicken embryo development and tracked their progress. On day three, we candled the eggs for the first time and were amazed to see visible networks of blood vessels within most of the eggs.

Candling involves looking into the egg with a bright light to identify viable eggs. By day 10, we could tell that 11 of our 12 eggs contained developing embryos. 

We stopped turning the eggs on day 18. The eggs were in “lockdown” from here on. The incubator needs to stay closed until all the eggs have finished hatching to maintain humidity and temperature.

By the time we reached hatch day (day 21), we were growing impatient and started to fret that perhaps we hadn’t looked after the eggs properly. Did we turn them enough? Was humidity OK? By the end of day 21, nothing had happened and we were convinced that we had failed.

Towards the end of day 22, after anxiously waiting and watching, we were thrilled to spot the first pip – a small crack in the shell that tells us a chicken is almost ready to hatch.

Australorp-chicken. Little eco footprints

We watched the first chicken hatch that night. It made a teeny hole and then relaxed while it got used to breathing air. Eventually, it started to zip. It pecked through the egg in a circle, unzipping the egg until the crack was big enough for it to push the egg open. It emerged wet and ugly. Within an hour, it was dry, cute and fluffy.

Raising-chickens-from-eggs-Little eco footprints (2)

We had seven chickens hatch in total. I quickly learnt my first lesson in what not to do when raising chickens. Don’t name your chickens before you sex them. Little Eco enthusiastically named each chicken, distinguishing chicks by painting their toe nails in different colours and patterns. Then we sexed them using feather sexing, a technique that works with certain breeds when the chicks are only a few days old.

We have three girls and four boys. We’re only keeping one rooster, so now my Little Eco is struggling to choose between Rose, Cutie, Fluffy and Bubba. Names make such a difference. We’ll be renaming three of the boys stock, soup and sandwich.

Our sweet little chickens have taught Little Eco real-life lessons in patience, responsibility and reality. There’s been anticipation, concern, tears and joy. She watched a new life that she helped to create enter the world. Her pride and awe at that moment is something I will always remember. Nothing beats the real thing.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 9th June 2014.

Creativity, compromise and conscious consumption

Compromise-education-and-conscious-consumption. Little eco footprints 1

The call to compromise on my environmental ideals comes more often now that Little Eco is older. She asks for packaged food in her lunch box and begs for the latest fad plastic toy.

Marketers are trying to teach her that life is about buying, whereas I am trying to teach her that happiness can’t be bought: How she contributes and what she creates is more important than what she consumes.

I use creativity and conscious compromise to help her navigate the pervasive power of marketing.

My strategy to minimise the influence of consumer culture includes avoiding branded licensed toys. I dislike how advertisers capitalise on a child’s love of a character by leveraging it to sell products.

Little Eco recently asked for a Frozen (as in the Disney movie) themed birthday party. I contemplated trying to persuade her to pick another less branded theme. Instead, I decided to follow her wishes and approach it simply.

She wasn’t asking me to spend money on disposable branded party plates and cups. She wanted to celebrate her love for a movie and its characters.

I helped her make her own invitations, decorated with hand-made paper snowflakes. We had so much fun making the snowflakes that we made more to use as party decorations.

Snowball-meringues. Little eco footprints

There was sugar-laden party food, but I kept it simple. Instead of a party table laden with choices, there were only two options: melting snowman biscuits and snowball meringues. The children later made their own pizzas.

For party games, they built their own snowman and played pin the nose on Olaf the snowman. The party was everything she wanted and in the end, was less of a compromise than I expected.

Occasional compromise paired with a good dose of education about responsible consumption is another of my strategies.

Little Eco has been pestering me for a Rainbow Loom for months. Initially, I resisted buying her one of these plastic jewellery-making kits and instead taught her how to weave bracelets using a cardboard loom.

The pestering continued.

In his book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne suggests fad toys play on a child’s fear of not having what everyone else has. ‘‘As a child grows into adolescence, not only will peer pressure increase, so will the prices of the latest must-have gadget,’’ Payne writes. He suggests that the longer you play along with the ‘‘keeping up’’ game, the more difficult it can be to stop.

Despite Payne’s advice and my concerns about the environmental impact of all those rubber bands, I eventually gave in to my daughter’s pestering power.

There is a good reason why harnessing ‘‘pester power’’ is one of marketers’ favourite ways to influence the purchasing of parents. It works.

I bought her a Rainbow Loom and used it as an opportunity to teach her about responsible consumption. We spoke of the risk that the rubber bands pose to pets and wildlife. Rainbow Loom bands can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed and they may get wrapped around the beak or neck of wildlife.

We brainstormed solutions and together came up with a plan to make sure she uses her loom bands wisely and disposes of them properly. She now reuses her bands and makes sure she does not leave them lying around.

Like most fad toys, the Rainbow Loom fad seems to have passed, at least in our household. The loom sits neglected and hundreds of small rubber bands have disappeared. With millions of kits sold, that’s a lot of non-degradable bands hanging around somewhere.

I’m hoping the next fad is finger knitting.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 26th May 2014.

A recipe for fast and healthy waste-free lunch boxes

Easy Waste Free Lunches Biome 1[This post is sponsored by Biome]

School starts back in only a few weeks so I thought I'd share my recipe for packing fast and healthy waste-free lunch boxes. 

Easy Waste Free Lunches Biome 2

1. Follow a template

On the rare occasion Daddy Eco has to pack Little Eco's lunch he gets totally flabbergasted and has no idea what to include. I created the following template for what to pack to make it easier for him: 

1 serving of protein. e.g yoghurt, cheese, hommus, olives, baked beans, or a boiled egg

1 serving of grains. e.g rice crackers, popcorn or a sandwich

1 serving of seasonal fruit.

1 serving of seasonal raw vegetables. e.g cucumber, carrot, corn, peas, or beans.

2. Embrace simple whole foods

You may notice that the above list doesn't include many baked goods or food that requires more than a moment preparation. Thankfully many kids prefer simple foods anyway.

3. Add variety by favoring seasonal foods

Embracing seasonal fruits and vegetables is a great way to add variety.

For example when school goes back in a few weeks I'll be including corn wheels, cherry tomatoes, asparagus spears, peas, snow peas, stone fruit, berries, watermelon and diced mango.


4. Prepare ahead

I try and organise the contents of a weeks worth of lunches at the start of the week.

I boil eggs and do all my slicing and dicing at once. 

Easy Waste Free Lunches Biome 4

5. Have a basic set of quality waste-free containers and wraps

Having a set of good quality re-useable containers and wraps makes avoiding disposable containers and plastic wrap easy.

My kit includes: 

Kids Konserve stainless steel nesting trio 

    -Pictured above holding the yoghurt and vegetables. 

    -These leak proof containers are great for holding liquids like yoghurt and diced fruit. 

Kids Konserve stainless steel mini food containers

    - I use these for olives and diced veggies and in the past (when her lunch box was stored in a child-care fridge rather than her school bag) yoghurt. 

    - These containers are nice and easy to open and close for toddlers. 

4MyEarth lunch wraps

    - I use the wraps to wrap sandwiches and the pocket to hold crackers.  Thanks to these I haven't ever had to use plastic wrap in Little Eco's lunch box. 

Little Eco used to use a stainless steel lunch box but now that her lunch will be stored in her school bag rather than a fridge we've upgraded to an insulated lunch bag

Do you have any tips for making packing waste-free lunches easy? 

[This post was sponsored by Biome. As mentioned, I don't accept cash for sponsorship. Instead I barter for things I need. In this case I bartered an insulated lunch box (pictured above) and drink bottle for Little Eco.]

When the weird becomes normal


I realised the other day that many of the sustainable living choices I’ve made -that may seem weird to some - seem totally normal to Little Eco.

I was in a rush recently and instead of washing my face with honey I squirted some castile soap onto a wet washer. Castile soap is a gentle vegetable oil based liquid soap. I use it as a hand wash, but its gentle enough that you can wash your face with it.

Little eco looked at me like I was going crazy and asked “What are you doing!? You’re not supposed to wash your face with soap! You wash it with honey!”.

So I’ve managed to raise a child that thinks washing your face with honey is perfectly normal.

She’ll also probably grow up thinking that skipping the supermarket, avoiding packaged food, foraging food from the side of the road, and ditching disposables is perfectly normal.

Or am I being naievely optimistic? Do your children think some of your 'weirder' sustainable living choices are normal?